Skip Navigation
For Employees

History of UW-Extension

In the early 1900s, University of Wisconsin President Charles Van Hise and Governor Robert LaFollette defined a third mission to be added to the teaching and research functions of the state University – a mission that would extend the resources of the University to serve the needs of Wisconsin people. These courageous leaders had a dream that gave birth to the Wisconsin Idea: extension of educational programs to address the relevant social, economic, environmental and cultural issues of its citizens.

The extension function of the University of Wisconsin was well established long before the creation of the University of Wisconsin-Extension as an institution. Wisconsin was one of the first states to institutionalize extension education and is nationally acclaimed for the innovative, progressive role of its University in relation to the people of the state. UW-Extension has a long, proud, and productive history of outstanding contributions to Wisconsin people and communities. In fact, many of Wisconsin’s institutions, organizations, traditions, and achievements as one of the most progressive states in the Union, are directly attributable to the Wisconsin Idea – education for people where they live and work, with practical applications for their daily lives.

Throughout the past century of progress, UW-Extension programs were created, not only by the University, but also by Wisconsin people who petitioned their state and local governments for the University to respond to their needs. The historic 1982 Board of Regents Policy on Extension provided the impetus for UW-Extension to embark on a new era of positive educational effort to meet the complex and urgent present and future needs of Wisconsin people, businesses, and communities. The highlighted history of UW-Extension in Wisconsin that follows illustrates how extension programs have grown and changed over the years to meet the changing needs of people, communities, the state, and the nation.


1862-1900: The Early Beginnings

  • The Morrill Act of 1862 (Land-Grant College Act) endowed the University of Wisconsin with income for support of instruction in agriculture and the mechanic arts and for the fruits of research to be taken to the people of the state.

  • First Legislative Appropriation. The first legislative appropriation of $5,000 to the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture for the establishment of Farmers’ Institutes came in 1885. By 1887, the legislature increased the amount to $12,000 and Farmers Institutes attracted 50,000 people in 300 sessions statewide. During the first 20 years of the Institutes, Wisconsin progressed from a poor, single-grain state to a leader in dairying and diversified farming. The economic consequences were seen across the state. At Beaver Dam, 38 cooperative creameries and cheese factories were formed by Institute attendees. Within seven years, they paid Dodge County farmers over $500,000 annually.

  • Hatch Act. In 1887, the federal Hatch Act provided funds to establish a system of experiment stations in cooperation with land-grant colleges to promote solid research base for a scientific agriculture and home economics program.

  • Teachers’ Institutes. In 1888, the Legislature authorized statewide Teachers’ Institutes to be conducted by Extension. History lectures began in local communities.

  • Mechanics Institutes. In 1890, the first series of mechanics institutes were held in Racine. In 1901 they were revived as an engineering summer school. The "new" institutes’ success came with the addition of practical and relevant teaching, which replaced the scientific theory approach of the 1890’s.

  • Babcock Butterfat Test. In 1890, Professor S. M. Babcock announced the invention of a simple, quick and accurate device to test the butterfat content of milk. Babcock’s refusal to patent the device for personal gain and his decision to freely share the test with the state’s dairy industry set the tone for the extension of University resources to the people of Wisconsin.

  • Lectures and Correspondence Courses. In 1891, the University created three new extension programs: lecture courses in general subjects, courses on industrial subjects for working people, and correspondence courses–the beginning of Extension’s Independent Study program. Extension teaching and correspondence work were added to the residence teaching loads of UW-Madison faculty.

  • Academic Freedom. In 1894, the attacks on Professor Richard Ely, an extension lecturer and resident teacher, gave cause for the now famous defense of academic freedom. Ely was harshly criticized for rallying the masses with his attacks on "life and property." The Board of Regents wrote, "Whatever may be the limitations which trammel inquiry elsewhere, we believe the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the truth can be found."

    Back to Top

1901-1918: The Van Hise/LaFollette Era

  • State/University Cooperation. Although Charles Van Hise did not take office as president of the University until 1903, the next era in the development of Extension actually began with the inauguration of Governor Robert M. LaFollette. LaFollette brought to office with him a number of Extension enthusiasts, and, in his first address to the Legislature in 1901, he endorsed the importance of the University’s extension function: "The state will not have discharged its duty to the University nor the University fulfilled its mission to the people until adequate means have been furnished to every young man and woman in the state to acquire an education at home in every department of learning."

  • McCarthy Survey. Charles McCarthy, founder of the Legislative Reference Library, was a strong advocate of Extension education. In 1906, he personally financed a survey to determine the extent to which extension training would benefit the people of the state. The survey found that 35,000 citizens were paying $800,000 annually for private instruction, a market McCarthy argued rightly belong to University Extension.

  • University Extension Division. In 1906, President Van Hise proposed the organization of a University Extension Division (still separate from the agricultural extension services of the College of Agriculture). The new University Extension Division became a reality in 1907, with a $2,500 sum from the Board of Regents. Library services were provided by the new University Extension in 1906.

  • Job Training in Factories. The legislature of 1907, lobbied by the Milwaukee Merchant and Manufacturers Association, appropriated $20,000 for Extension to provide an extensive program of job training in the factories. Cooperating employers in Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Beaver Dam, and other cities helped finance their employees’ fees for extension correspondence and visiting instructor courses in shop mathematics, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, etc. For the first time, the extension function at the University received substantial financial support. During the next decade, the appropriation grew steadily, amounting to $206,110 for each year of the 1915-17 biennium.

  • Enrollments in Five Areas. The investment of state funds in the Extension Division proved to be the catalyst McCarthy had envisioned. In 1907, with only one full-time staff member, the Division received 357 enrollments. The following year, the Division enrolled 1,122 students. Training fell into five categories: regular university work, special advanced work, preparatory and high school subjects, elementary school branches, and special vocational studies.

  • Public Health Programs. In 1908, Extension Division programs were conducted for urban school children and adults in a public education effort aimed at preventing tuberculosis. The public health programs focused on nutrition; communicable diseases and disease control; pure milk; sanitary bread (through the Bakers’ Institutes); maternal, child, and prenatal health care; industrial safety; safe water supplies, sewage disposal systems, and vermin control in the city environment.

  • Socio-Economic Conditions in Milwaukee. In 1909, Extension Division professors helped Milwaukee conduct an economic survey of the city, including studies of industrial hygiene and education, working conditions, hospitals, municipal health and sanitation problems, and a city cost accounting system. As a result, Extension programs were initiated with the Institute of Municipal and Social Service, with day courses for fees and free evening lectures on a variety of social service, business, and political topics.

  • Professional and Labor Education. Continuing education lectures on immunization were provided to physicians, and classes were begun in engineering and business. The first public health nursing courses began. The Extension Division offered continuing education classes for nurses in 1916–several years before a nursing school was established at the University. Cooperation in labor education between Extension and the Milwaukee Workers College presaged the later establishment of the Extension School for Workers in the 1920’s.

  • First County Agent. In 1911, the Legislature provided funds for counties to jointly employ with the University of Wisconsin College of Agriculture "an agriculturist who is an agent of a restricted area, a county or a part of one." The Oneida County Board sent three of their members to ask the University for this service, with expenses to be shared on a 50/50 basis. This Wisconsin innovation preceded the 1914 Smith-Lever Act, which provided federal funding for the state/county/federal partnership in Cooperative Extension programs.

  • Political Support. Extension education became a prominent theme of the 1912 elections. State party platforms endorsed "more Extension work by county agricultural schools, wider applications of domestic science courses for women, and greater expansion of correspondence teaching and the lecture series."

  • Practical Education for People. By 1912, McCarthy could write glowingly of his experiences with the Wisconsin Extension Division. In his book, The Wisconsin Idea, he criticized universities as aristocratic institutions – "There are no greater aristocrats found anywhere than in education." But of Wisconsin and its Extension Division, he wrote: "It made what had been an ideal a practical reality. It actually did and does bring the university to every fireside. It actually has shown all universities a means for shedding the light of knowledge from within its walls to every home." McCarthy credited the Division’s success, in part, to its distinctive features: a faculty, an administration, and an appropriation of its own.

  • Smith-Lever Act. The 1914 Smith-Lever Act established USDA support to accelerate each land-grant institution’s extension function and to initiate the three-way partnership of state, county, and federal governments in Cooperative Extension education from the College of Agriculture.

  • BAVI. In January 1914, what later became the Bureau of Audio-Visual Instruction began circulating educational materials. Starting with filmstrips, BAVI later circulated videos, audio cassettes, and other materials to campuses, counties, and schools. BAVI closed in 1994.

  • World War I Mobilization. The stress of World War I converted Extension into a disaster force. USDA funds in 1917 provided total support for World War I "Emergency Food Agents" to encourage accelerated food production through victory gardens, poultry production, and improved milk and crop production to meet wartime demand. These funds expanded Extension field staff to 54. The food agents helped Wisconsin farmers raise some 94,000 additional acres of strategic crops, with outstanding yield gains in wheat, corn, potatoes, barley, oats, rye, buckwheat, and sugar beets. Extension developed special correspondence courses for the armed forces, Red Cross nursing classes, and post-graduate medical refresher courses, along with information on food and fuel conservation, and women in industry.

  • WHA Radio. In a pioneering effort, wireless radio broadcasting began at the University in 1917. In 1918, during World War I, when other stations were ordered silenced, 9XM (WHA) operated under special authorization to continue its exchange with U.S. Navy stations on the Great Lakes. The call letters WHA were assigned in 1922 to "the oldest station in the nation," and the emphasis shifted from the science of signal transmission to using the instrument to take the University to the people.

    Back to Top

The 1920’s: Meeting Special Needs

  • Medical Training. With a $5,000 grant by the Legislature, the Extension Division instituted a series of conferences for post graduate medical education, bringing the University for the first time into direct contact with practicing physicians. Extension faculty helped introduce such new practices as the use of x-rays in diagnosis of early pulmonary tuberculosis. In 1921 and 1922, 185 obstetrics and gynecology clinics and lectures were held in 28 cities.

  • Teacher Education. The Wisconsin Teachers Association announced in 1921 that 700 teachers lacked minimum requirements in subject matter and methods. Extension correspondence courses were expanded to provide special teacher courses to meet the Association’s concerns, including training for school librarians, education in leadership for school superintendents, training to meet new state certification requirements, and education and demonstration projects to improve physical fitness curricula. Between 1927 and 1931, 15,627 Wisconsin teachers had registered for Extension correspondence courses.

  • School Relations. Extension sponsored programs to improve local school relations and actively encourage parent participation in school functions. By 1922, the Division had helped create 90 Parent-Teacher Associations. For schools with limited curricula and students needing remedial work, Extension developed courses of high school-grade. In 1925, 666 high school students were registered with the Extension Division.

  • Prison Work. In 1922, 192 prisoners at Waupun and the state reformatories were registered for Extension work. Some turned out to be superior students, and discipline problems were fewer among student-prisoners.

  • School for Workers. The School for Workers was established in 1925 with a six-week resident summer session for working women. Trade unionists dominated the school’s enrollment after women-only restrictions were removed in 1928.

  • Veterans’ Subsidies. World War I veterans could receive government subsidies for courses in engineering and business. The Extension Division’s Milwaukee program set up two-year technical courses in commerce and building design and construction. These classes, begun in 1919, became the vehicle for the Milwaukee Extension Division.

  • Liberal Studies. Lectures on recent world problems were begun and noncredit extension programs in liberal arts were offered for adults throughout the state. Special night classes, primarily for housewives, teachers, and the rising numbers of clerical workers, were offered.

  • Expanded County Programs. Wisconsin counties began employing additional county agents in areas of agriculture, nutrition, youth development, and home economics. The Capper-Ketcham Act of 1928 provided federal funds, to be matched by one-third in state funds, for demonstration work, enabling counties to hire additional youth and home agents. The local project leader system, begun in 1918, was expanded, resulting in a multiplier effect for extension teaching.

  • Milwaukee Extension Building. The State Legislature in 1923 appropriated $150,000 for the construction of a University Extension Building in Milwaukee to serve the growing numbers of collegiate and continuing education students. This two-year Extension Division in Milwaukee (today’s Civic Center campus) offered a full-time freshman/sophomore university program, along with adult education.

  • Trade and Professional Education. New registrations for correspondence study and class instruction rose from 11,450 in 1926 to 14,314 in 1929. New General Extension programs included a growing number of conferences, short courses, and institutes for trade, professional, and social groups: extensive post-graduate classes for practicing physicians with a circulating medical library, classes for policemen, a Wisconsin citizenship school, dramatic institutes, retail conferences, electric metermen schools, recreation institutes, highway construction short courses, a firemen’s school, a headlight testing clinic, a foundry foremen’s conference. Four new "Bureaus" were initiated for Dramatic Activities, Economics and Sociology, Recreation and Community Organization, and Business Information. They joined the former Bureaus of Debating and Public Instruction, Lectures, Visual Instruction, and Municipal Reference.

  • New Agricultural Concerns. With the collapse of the war boom economy, Cooperative Extension turned toward important new concerns: dairy cattle production improvement; eradication of bovine tuberculosis; farm management; grades and standards for agricultural products; transportation, storage, and marketing of farm products; organization of cooperatives; rural financing; and home nutrition, health, and welfare.

    Back to Top

The 1930’s: Depression

  • Job Rehabilitation. The Extension Division initiated depression-era employment rehabilitation programs to help the jobless improve their skills. The 1933 Legislature appropriated $30,000 for free scholarships for unemployed citizens to take extension courses. The first 2,530 enrollees exhausted the fund. The adult Vocational Guidance Bureau, set up in 1930 at the Milwaukee Extension Center, helped large numbers of adults to "readjust themselves vocationally."

  • WHA Radio. By 1931, the "Wisconsin School of the Air" over WHA Radio was presenting schools with extensive programs in civics, music, art, nature study, and health. By 1940, almost 300,000 elementary and high school students were regular listeners. The daily homemakers’ program, helping families with nutrition, clothing, and homemaking despite hard times, was the most popular.

  • Statewide Credit Classes. The groundwork for the Center System was laid with the creation of the first Extension Center and freshman/sophomore credit classes throughout the state. During the 1932-34 biennium, 7,067 students were enrolled for credit in Extension classes in 54 cities outside of Milwaukee.

  • Depression Budget Cuts. With the belt-tightening of the depression, the 1928 legislative appropriation for Extension of $280,000 was reduced to $215,000 in 1934. To make ends meet, the Extension Division set up a Photographic Laboratory and the Duplicating Department accepted work from other state agencies to amortize costs. Staff were dropped and others took salary cuts. Medical Extension programs were temporarily suspended. Income-producing programs were pushed and more subsidized programs cut. Extension levels of self-support rose from the 18% of 1918 to 60% in 1939.

  • Erosion and Pest Controls. The drought, erosion, and insect-ravaged farmland throughout the state demanded emergency Cooperative Extension measures. Shelterbelt, windbreak, grove, and woodlot tree plantings began in 1935. More than 2.6 million acres of cropland were placed in soil conservation districts. Alfalfa replaced more erosive and drought-intolerant crops on nearly 800,000 acres between 1930 and 1936. Lime and fertilizers were added to enrich the soil. Pesticides were introduced to fight hordes of grasshoppers. And agricultural agents managed dozens of government loan and incentive programs to help keep Wisconsin farmers in business until they could get back on their feet. Hybrid corn and disease-resistant potatoes were introduced.

  • Dairy Improvements. The 1930’s saw the growth of dairy herd improvement programs to include nearly 74,000 cows by 1939, artificial insemination and breeding cooperatives to improve dairy production, elimination of brucellosis, and technical aid to help cheese and butter makers improve their products.

  • Rural Electricity. Extension also helped with the rural electrification program, bringing federal loans for cooperative electric power lines to some 5,500 Wisconsin farms within the first year (1937).

  • Photographic Media Center. In 1935, the Regents created a separate photography and motion picture production facility from the one-person photo operation that had served the University since 1923. By 1964, 40 people were employed to serve the University’s photographic needs and produce international award-winning educational films. In 1980, the film production responsibilities were transferred to WHA-TV, while the Photo Media Center served the still photography needs of the total UW System and state agencies. With the advent of digital and other sophisticated photographic equipment that the Center could not afford on a revenue budget, UWEX closed the Photo Media Center in 1996.

    Back to Top

1940-59: World War II and the Post-War Boom

  • War Industry Training. With World War II, the University’s Extension Division organized more than 500 classes under the federal Engineering, Science, and Management War Training program, enrolling more than 10,000 students representing 600 businesses in 37 cities of the state. The Milwaukee Extension Center offered "swing shift" classes in civilian pilot training, cryptography, military mathematics and military German, Japanese, and Russian.

  • U.S. Armed Forces Institute. Seventeen days after Pearl Harbor, the War Department located the U.S. Armed Forces Institute in Madison with Extension professors doing the teaching and preparing correspondence study courses for servicemen and women around the world. Enrollments grew from 639 in 1942 to 101,535 in 1952. By 1953, active enrollments in correspondence study stabilized at more than 93,000 – 10,000 in UW courses and 85,000 in USAFI courses.

  • Emergency Food Production. The Cooperative Extension Service marshalled forces to produce unprecedented amounts of food and fiber for the war effort and was placed in charge of emergency labor recruitment to replace the farmers who left their cornfields for battlefields. The Extension-run bureaus placed 172,200 different individuals in canneries and on farms. Intensive efforts went into expanding milk production from 12% of the nation’s supply to 21%, along with 46% of the nation’s cheese. Because of intensive field production, 31 active soil conservation districts were at work to control erosion. Thousands of 4-H young people were put to work on war production projects and to replace soldiers on the farms. By the end of 1944, artificial insemination was common for breeding highly productive milk cows and Wisconsin was on its way toward the elimination of mastitis.

  • Home and Family Concerns. With the post-war baby boom, Cooperative Extension programs in child development, family relations, and home furnishings flourished. 4-H membership soared to 52,500 by 1959. Nearly 4,200 members were in cities and towns. Food and nutrition programs reached 10,000 families in 1949. Some 134,000 farms and homes in 1940 reported changes in practices credited to Extension influence. By 1950, the number had grown to 157,000, and by 1958, 300,780 farms and homes adopted Extension recommendations for better homes and farms.

  • Extension Centers. At the end of World War II, thousands of returning GI’s sparked a boom in the two-year Extension Centers. Some 30 centers were operating in a variety of facilities immediately after the war. By 1950, permanent two-year Extension Centers were established in 11 cities. By 1953, eight of these were community colleges providing full freshman/sophomore university programs for those beginning their college careers.

  • Professional and Community Education. The fastest-growing post-war area of General Extension work was a wide range of conferences, institutes, and short courses to meet the needs of professional and functional groups around the state. In 1953, 229 such institutes were held by 14 Extension units with a combined enrollment of 29,859. The Milwaukee Extension Division had grown into a metropolitan college with day enrollments of 1,431 and night enrollments of 6,348. Theater, music, art, and other cultural programs reached audiences of 982,000. The state teachers colleges were beginning to become competitive, offering their own adult and professional education programs.

  • Television and Radio. In 1947 and the years following, WHA developed the statewide FM Radio Network. Television was added to WHA Radio in 1954. Extension Division faculty and county Extension agents used commercial media for education, presenting 13,300 radio broadcasts and over 900 television programs by 1959.

  • Beyond Agriculture. In the 1950’s, Cooperative Extension education expanded beyond traditional agricultural concerns to community, economic and natural resource development efforts. Extension helped Wisconsin communities improve their social and economic conditions, and worked with local businesses in expansion, management, and marketing. Today, Wisconsin is the recognized leader in community and economic development.

  • Natural Resources. Wisconsin’s natural resources had suffered under the dust-bowl and the heavy agricultural production urged by two world wars. Extension began intensive work in natural resource issues and problems: soil conservation, water quality, restoration of forest lands, and wildlife ecology. By 1950, 62 counties were organized as soil conservation districts and 200,000 soil samples were tested for fertility, with remedial action following. In 1959, 38 million trees from state nurseries were planted on private lands. Watershed management and grassland farming were initiated.

  • Central Sands Restoration. With new interdisciplinary research on irrigation and fertilization of sandy soils and crop varieties, Extension helped transform the sandy wasteland of Central Wisconsin, ravaged by the depression-era dust storms, into a highly productive, nationally-known vegetable-raising and processing center.

    Back to Top

1960-72: The Sixties and the Era of the Mergers

  • Survey Research. In July 1960, the Wisconsin Survey Research Laboratory began operations.

  • Geological and Natural History Survey. In 1964, the Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, which originated in 1853, was transferred from the UW-Madison to UW-Extension.

  • Programs for the Disadvantaged. The federal War on Poverty brought an influx of social programs to Extension programming in Wisconsin. Title I funds were used as seed money for Extension pilot programs for women, minorities, the elderly, and disadvantaged clientele. The focus was on employment and training programs, housing, health, consumer education, retirement planning, and programs for displaced homemakers. Many of these programs have since become self-supporting and/or received hard money funding following their success as pilot efforts. In 1967, the Center for Community Leadership Development was started with federal funds to focus on urban problems and inner-city neighborhood development efforts.

  • Nutrition for the Poor. In 1968, federal Cooperative Extension funds were provided for the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, reaching low-income and disadvantaged adults with children on low-cost nutrition, money management, health and hygiene concerns.

  • Public Policy Work. Cooperative Extension work expanded in areas of land-use planning and zoning, agricultural production, dairy herd improvement, and farm management and marketing. Extension faculty focused on dairy price supports, Wisconsin land-use policy, water quality, and other state and national public policy issues. Work with communities in economic development increased.

  • UW-Milwaukee. In 1955, UW-Milwaukee was created through a merger of the Milwaukee Extension Division and the Wisconsin State Teachers College (Milwaukee). In 1963, the UW Board of Regents approved major university status for UW-Milwaukee. The Extension Division continued its work in Milwaukee in association with both the UW-Madison and the new major urban doctoral university.

  • UW Center System. In 1964-65, the two-year Extension Centers were separated from the University Extension Division and placed in a separate unit, called the UW Center System, headed by a chancellor.

  • 1965 University Extension Merger. In 1965-66, the merger of the several extension units of the UW-Madison created one integrated unit: University Extension, headed by a chancellor. The outreach units merged included the Cooperative Extension Service of the College of Agriculture, the University Extension Division, WHA Radio/TV, and the Geological and Natural History Survey, all formerly from the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

  • Radio/TV Awards. In its 15th year of operation (1969), WHA-TV became the first educational television station in the nation to win an Emmy award from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, one of hundreds of national awards to the Extension broadcasting stations for excellence in arts, information, and educational programming. In 1969, WHA-TV also received the largest single radio grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to establish a National Center for Audio Experimentation. UWEX added the Subsidiary Communications Authorization (SCA) to its FM radio broadcasting capabilities – by placing two or more separate signals onto a single FM channel, permitting simultaneous broadcast of several different programs.

  • Teleconference Networks. In 1965, UW-Extension’s Instructional Communications Systems launched the Educational Teleconference Network (ETN), linking 200 sites throughout the state with two-way audio contacts with speakers anywhere in the world. In 1969, the Statewide Extension Education Network (SEEN) added freeze-frame video to the telephone system to present slides, graphics, and other visual materials in continuing education and credit classes at 26 sites. The UWEX teleconference networks, which now include the Wisline dial-up teleconference service linking phones anywhere in the world, and compressed video conferencing, are widely acknowledged as the world leaders and models for national and international teleconference systems in business, industry, government, and education.

  • 1971 UW System Merger. In 1971, the University of Wisconsin (now with four major campuses at Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Parkside, along with University Extension) was merged with the eleven state universities into one University of Wisconsin System. The 15 resulting UW System institutions included the University of Wisconsin-Extension as a separate statewide institution, and the UW Center System, including the nine former Extension Centers and the five two-year centers of the former State University System. After 1971, UW-Extension represented the outreach and continuing education functions of all institutions of the UW System.

    Back to Top

1973-89: Integration and Change

  • UWEX Outreach Responsibility. In 1973, the Board of Regents policy on outreach assigned UW-Extension with responsibility to lead, coordinate, plan and administer a Systemwide extension function with all institutions of the UW System.
  • Student Services. In 1973, UW-Extension set up two new student services programs–the Community-Based Educational Counseling for Adults program (CBECA) and the Systemwide Higher Educational Location program (HELP). In 1996, CBECA closed, and HELP added Internet services that allow students, school counselors, and parents to access information about any UW institution and even apply for college on-line.

  • Wisconsin Idea Budget Request. The 1973-75 biennial budget request for $3.2 million to revitalize the Wisconsin Idea through expanded interinstitutional relationships between UW-Extension and the other UW System campuses was approved at $2.8 million, reduced to $1.75 million by the Joint Finance Committee, and put into escrow. A total of $389,000 was released to Extension from escrow during the biennium, of which $69,000 was earmarked for the Division of Urban Outreach in Milwaukee. Funding for full implementation of the extension function with all the UW universities after merger was never achieved.

  • DOA Salary Policy Change. In 1975, the Wisconsin Department of Administration made a policy change on funding for Extension faculty/staff salary increases, so that state funding increases were based only on the amount of GPR dollars allotted to salaries, rather than on the combined state/program revenue/ Smith-Lever amounts, as had been the case in previous years. This change meant the loss of nearly $4.6 million in GPR through 1983-84. Also in 1975-76, $750,000 was permanently transferred from the UWEX GPR base to become a program revenue requirement. As a result, General Extension programs were forced to raise fees and reduce some public service programs to cover salary increases; and Cooperative Extension was faced with a series of budget reallocations and program reductions.

  • Energy Extension Service. Federal Energy Extension Service funding was granted to Wisconsin, one of ten pilot states to establish energy education programs through UW-Extension program areas and the 72 county Extension offices. In addition to providing energy information, $137,838 in EES funds were distributed to the Center for Urban Community Development to conduct home insulation and weatherization programs for low and moderate income, minority, and elderly clientele in Milwaukee. When independents and public utilities began providing energy information, this program was phased out.

  • Small Business Development. University of Wisconsin received a $40,000 federal grant from the Small Business Administration, along with $600,000 in state resources, to launch the nation’s first statewide Small Business Development Center program using UW-Extension outreach capabilities. The SBDC’s, now located at 12 UW institutions, provide counseling services and linkages between existing agencies/institutions to aid small businesses. County Extension faculty provide referral services to the SBDC programs for local people.

  • Enrollment Growth and GPR Reductions. General Extension programs made great surges in enrollment and program growth during the 1970’s, most of it subsidized by participant fees. Enrollments grew from 123,000 in 1974 to more than 217,000 in 1979-80. At this time, the loss of an informal enrollment funding formula was detrimental to UWEX budgets. From 1967-79 through 1973-75, UWEX received an additional $1,383,236 in state GPR through the informal enrollment funding formula. Since 1973-75, however, no additional state GPR has been received for enrollment increases. Nearly all additional costs in General Extension since that time have been financed through increases in program revenue. Along with the 1975 DOA policy change in staff salaries funded through program revenue, $1.7 million in 1980-82 state budget reductions, and the recessions of the 1980’s, UWEX continuing education programs began to experience significant deficits by 1980-81, despite large increases in fees.

  • 1982 Regent Policy. Following a two-year study of Extension, the 1982 Board of Regents Policy on Extension reaffirmed the importance of the Wisconsin Idea and mandated continuation of UW-Extension as an institution, along with integration of the extension function with the programs and faculties of the other UW institutions. UW-Extension was internally reorganized so that program and support units with similar funding, functions, and clientele were separated by three divisions: Cooperative Extension, General Extension, and Telecommunications. Integration with all UW institutions was implemented by July 1985.

  • Cooperative Extension Priorities. Cooperative Extension programs in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s focused on new priorities in farm and agribusiness management and marketing; human health and nutrition; small business and community economic development; environmental and natural resources conservation and management; food, fiber, and forest production; assistance to government and community leaders; and family relationships and stability. In response to the 1985 farm crisis, Cooperative Extension launched the Strategies on Survival Program with 100 county agents working in teams to help farm families suffering financial hardship and family stress.

  • Continuing Education Extension. During the 1970’s and 80’s, General Extension fee programs expanded, with the greatest enrollment increases in liberal studies and in professional continuing education for business managers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, communications professionals, and local government employees. New Continuing Education Extension program priorities were established in economic development, public policy education, professional development, and intellectual, cultural and social development.

  • WHA Radio/TV. During the 1980’s, WHA Radio and Television topped most national public broadcasting stations in reaching the highest numbers of available audience within their broadcast areas.

  • Budget and Program Reductions. The combined effects of the state faculty salary catch-up plan (allocated only on the state GPR base for 1986-87 Extension faculty, rather than on the state/county/federal/program revenue base), along with state and federal budget reductions, resulted in significant program and staff reductions, especially in Cooperative Extension.

  • 1988 Regent Policy on Extension Integration. After a year-long study of the progress of integration, the UW System Board of Regents approved five policy measures to strengthen the integrated extension function in May 1988. The Regents called for establishment of improved structures for statewide coordination and communication; joint appointments between UW-Extension and the other UW institutions to allow integrated faculty/staff a role in UW-Extension’s institutional governance; a role for UWEX in personnel decisions for integrated faculty/staff; incorporation of institutional extension programs conducted outside the interinstitutional agreements within the program planning and coordination responsibilities of UW-Extension; and consistent use of the term "extension" to identify UW institutional units, programs, and faculty/staff with the UW Systemwide extension function.

    Back to Top

1990-97: Approaching the 21st Century

  • Divisional Name Changes. In 1990, two UW-Extension divisions changed their names: General Extension to Continuing Education Extension and Telecommunications to the Extension Communications Division (which, in 1996 became Extension Communications and Information Technology).

  • New Program Initiatives. In 1990 and 1991, UWEX was granted new state funds for priority program initiatives in waste management, sustainable agriculture, and new agricultural technologies. UWEX established a Solid and Hazardous Waste Education Center, a statewide cross-divisional, multi-campus programs in waste management, recycling, and toxic and hazardous waste pollution prevention. A cross-divisional Local Government Center was established to focus educational programs on a wide range of public policy issues and services important to village, town, city and county government officials. Cooperative Extension focused new priority programs on water quality and youth at risk.

  • National Programs. In 1990, UWEX received federal funding to establish the National Rural Development Institute to provide training in economic development strategies for Rural Development Councils in the states. And, with funding from the Kellogg Foundation, UWEX was chosen as the site for the National Extension Leadership Development (NELD) program.

  • Pay Plan Supplement for Cooperative Extension. In the 1991-93 state budget bill, the Legislature included a statutory pay plan supplement for Cooperative Extension, to be provided in years when new federal base funds are insufficient to match the costs of the state’s pay plan. The ruling was established to ease the pain caused by the 1975 DOA policy decision that caused Cooperative Extension to reallocate $1.1 million in base funds over a six-year period to meet the costs of the state’s pay plan and catch-up increases.

  • UWEX/ECB Partnership for Public Broadcasting. In 1992, UW-Extension and the state Educational Communications Board formed a Partnership for Wisconsin Public Broadcasting to more efficiently deliver public radio and television programming to the state. In 1997, UWEX, the ECB and the Milwaukee Area Technical College signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly plan for the transition to digital television.

  • Technology and Distance Education. The 1990’s marked the beginning of a new era of distance education and educational technology innovations for Extension. The Small Business Development Center received federal funds to set up WisTAP, a telephone and computer search service to help small manufacturers get better access to technology information. The UWEX satellite downlink network was completed, with satellite downlinks in every county Extension office. UWEX worked with the state Department of Administration and the Educational Communications Board on planning and coordination of a wide range of new information and distance education technologies and applications, including providing extension programs via the Internet. And, in 1995, the state budget authorized construction of a $13 million renovation of and state-of-the-art addition to the Wisconsin Center conference facility (The Pyle Center).

  • Manufacturing Extension Partnerships. While Extension has served manufacturers for decades, 1993-95 marked a new era in cooperative partnerships when the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded funding for a Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) center headquartered at UW-Stout. This partnership included the Wisconsin Technical College System, industry, labor and state government in a coordinated statewide manufacturing extension program. New state and federal funding bolstered these collaborative UW-Extension and UW System efforts, now known as the Stout Manufacturing Outreach Center.

  • UW-Extension’s 30-year Anniversary as an Institution. In October 1995, UW-Extension celebrated 30 years as a separate institution of the University of Wisconsin System, a move initiated by former UW President Fred Harvey Harrington in 1965. But, as this highlight history portrays, extension education in Wisconsin has been actively engaged with Wisconsin citizens and public issues for much longer than UW-Extension has been an institution charged with fostering the collaborative relationships and partnerships that make it work.

  • New Program Partnerships. UW-Extension accelerated its tradition of collaboration with other organizations and groups in 1995 and 1996, establishing many innovative partnerships with other institutions, agencies, and private sector businesses. Among them were:
    • the first-of-a-kind UWEX/IBM Lotus Institute Partnership for Distributed Learning;
    • the Collaborative Nursing Degree program, a collaboration of UWEX and the five UW Schools of Nursing to help the state’s 9,000 non-degreed nurses earn a degree through distance learning;
    • a GTE grant to offer staff development on Internet skills for math and science teachers;
    • a Kellogg Foundation-supported partnership with the national Society for Nonprofit Organizations and Television Wisconsin, Inc. to establish a Learning Institute for Nonprofits;
    • an Ameritech grant to support HELP On-Line, internet access to UW information for parents, students and school counselors;
    • a series of Family Impact Seminars for government policy makers and agency providers to learn a family perspective on public policy and services;
    • the formation of the Agribusiness Executive Management Institute, a partnership between UWEX and the UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and School of Business;
    • A $500,000 AT&T grant to support development of a professional development curriculum in instructional technology for PK-12 teachers and UW faculty.
    • A partnership of Wisconsin Public Television, the Wisconsin State Journal, WISC-TV and Wood Communications Inc. to offer the innovative print/TV citizenship series, We the People.

  • The Pyle Center. In 1997, Thomas and Judith Pyle of Madison presented a $2.4 million naming gift for the renovation of and state-of-the-art addition to the Wisconsin Center —Extension’s flagship continuing education conference and distance education facility now known as The Pyle Center. The $15.3 million Pyle Center re-opened in early 1999 and includes the addition of state-of-the-art telecommunications and distance learning capabilities, as well as complete renovation of existing conference center facilities. The new space, layout and improved technological infrastructure enhances teaching and learning in traditional on-site continuing education settings, as well as through leading edge distance education programs. The Pyle Center supports learner-focused, flexible, accessible education through a variety of media and methods, from interactive two-way video to computer conferencing via the internet.

Back to Top